Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 401; Aimee Lee Interview, Camera 2, Part 2 of 4
OHIO HERITAGE FELLOWS
AIMEE: I feel a huge responsibility as someone who has pretty much ended up becoming the torch bearer for Korean paper making in the U.S. I don’t know if I had done that intentionally thinking when I was going to Korea on the Fulbright that I would end up doing this but then in other ways it seems inevitable because the people in America who had gone to Korea to do this research had since left the field and so they weren’t really doing that kind of advocacy. The other thing was that very few people, almost none who were doing the research spoke both Korean and English. And, so this seemed really important to me to do bridge building between the cultures because it’s all I ever know… have known, is, is living between two cultures. So, when I built the studio, I felt like I really… we really had to use it. We really had to get people in to, to, to learn about it. I would teach… every year I would teach a class on Korean paper making which is a huge endeavor because it requires so much preparation and I would also just travel the country and eventually the world to teach an lecture on the topic because there is no one else to do it aside from the, I mean, the people in Korea who studied it. There are certainly people in Korea who have studied this in depth, but they didn’t have the language ability, so it essentially fell upon my shoulders and it has been a real, a real adventure. It’s something I take very seriously in terms of wanting to get the… all of the content correct to be able to represent properly, to not, um, try to act like I’m the only one who knows or that I know everything because I certainly still have so much to learn. But what I do is I try to provide an example of one way to approach not just paper making and art but to approach a rediscovery of your heritage and I’ve been so, um, excited. When I teach I’ve had students come up to me saying, I want to study Vietnamese paper and I speak Vietnamese and, and, you know, how can I go around… about doing that or I want to study Taiwanese paper and what’s happened. And, I tell them all the same thing, you have to go to the source and you have to be willing to really slog through something that’s not… it’s not easy cause it’s not a set path, it’s not like, you go to this school or this program and then you meet this person. You have to make it up as you go, and you have to be really resilient and okay with rejection. And, so when I do this work, I know that I am hopefully creating a larger body of people who can continue the work. And, so there’s one student that I had who met… I met in California when I was teaching out there and I mentored her and eventually she went to a very good graduate program for paper making, specifically with Asian paper making. She got a Fulbright to go to Korea to study Korean books which included Korean paper making. She studied with my teacher, she’s back in the states, she built a vat based on the one that I had built. She’s… she’s been teaching, she’s been, um, doing beautiful artwork out of Hanji and kind of creating her own niche in this field that is very small and yet, um, there’s still so much room for more people and so when I see things like that I’m really inspired to continue because it’s not gonna… it’s not just one, we don’t just need one more person we need so many more people and so that’s why I always teach every year a Korean paper making class. And, then the other, uh, classes that I teach we might not be doing the very traditional Korean paper making but we’re still learning all the Korean paper arts and I do that from Australia to Chile to different parts of Europe to all over coast to coast and back again in the U.S. So, I feel like it’s afforded me this amazing life and so I’m really grateful for the responsibility and I hope that I’m still able to do it even when I get really old and I can’t make paper anymore.
AIMEE: I was really fortunate to get another grant to go back to Korea about four or five years after my first trip and I got to see all of my teachers again and that’s my Korean paper making teacher, my, um, the paper weaving teacher, my calligraphy teacher, my natural dyeing teacher and they were all… they were all so happy. They were… they had kind of stayed in touch or it’s hard to stay in touch but they knew that I was still doing this work and they were… some of them said, I think actually my… my Korean paper making teacher said to me, I had no idea when I was teaching you that you would do all of this. So, he… he was very proud of everything that I’ve done, and he said, your job is to continue doing this in America. And, I also had other teachers who were just shocked. My weaving teacher when I showed him the ducks, I had started to make he said, I didn’t teach you how to do this. And, I said, of course you didn’t teach me how to make a duck but you taught me the techniques and so I’m an artist and so I… and so there was this kind of shock that I would make anything besides chamber pots or other kinds of vessels. So, it was really, um, it was great to be able to go back to Korea and see my teachers again and show them what I’ve been up to. And, and I’ve been, um, really lucky that they, they still support that work.
AIMEE: My teachers in Korea are now teaching other kinds of people, they’re more open to teaching, they’re taking more female students, they have taught I think my, my, my Korean paper making teacher has taught a young man from Turkey. He, um, has taught a young woman from D.C. Uh, my other student from California and I think seeing what I’ve done he’s… he, he feels more responsibility to continue that kind of work because I think normally in that kind of field you’re just I have to make a living, I have to make paper and sell it but he sees the benefits of doing this kind of work and his late father was a national and tangible cultural property holder of Korean paper making. So, he has a deeper understanding of their responsibility as a family to upholding this part of Korean culture.
AIMEE: I’m the first Korean American woman to go over there. There were a couple of American, um, Anglo American women who had gone but I think especially when I look back on how much resistance I met, not even just from the people who made the paper but even some of the scholars who, there was one who was almost was yelling at me in our first meeting saying, you know, you think you can do that? You have to do what I did and spend 20 to 30 years tramping around the countryside and, and so when I think of all the things that I’ve heard and I, I, I’m really grateful that I get to do this work in the states because it’s a different kind of culture and a different kind of reception. And, I think a little more of an understanding actually of multi-culturalism ironically that the best way to actually help Korean paper be really vibrant is for me to have people outside of Korea appreciate it because when that happens, when that external approval happens then Koreans start to think, oh, this thing that we’ve had all a long that we haven’t really thought about is maybe important and maybe we should protect it. And, and I think that’s what’s been happening and I’ve been invited to speak at a couple different international Korean paper, um, seminars that essentially the Korean government has organized both in Seoul and New York City and they’re understanding that it’s important to get Korean paper and knowledge of it outside of Korea. I wish they would also do more supporting their actual paper makers inside of Korea but that’s, that’s always the challenge of people working in traditional crafts is that it’s very hard for them to get the support they need to continue working and yet they… the one’s who really believe in it, they do but they it’s not, it’s not an easy road.
AIMEE: The tradition of Korean paper making is definitely endangered in Korea. I would love not to say that it’s dying but it’s not in great shape. There is no… there’s no kind of codified way of passing it on, meaning people haven’t been writing down, this is how to do it, not even to say that that’s the best way to do it but there are no official courses or classes. The first time I went to Korea and I was asking people about learning how to make Korean paper someone said, you should go to Japan because it’s pretty close. They have course there; they’re very well set up. You can’t do that here so you might as well go there and learn, um, many of the steps and then the last bit you just kind of will have to fudge back in Korea. And, and I’ve gotten a lot of requests from people around the world but a lot in the U.S. saying, oh I want to learn how to make Korean paper or I’m gonna go over there, where can I learn? And, there’s no place that they can do that. So, my teacher or, you know, there are other paper makers who on special cases based on introductions that have been made will accept students, but they don’t have a formal apprenticeship program. There is kind of this national treasure program and they say you have to have an apprentice, but I don’t think a lot of people are really following that model the way that it’s supposed to be, um, used. And, so that… it’s a big concern and that’s why I’m doing this work because I think even if what I do is take it out of it’s home country and do it here which because I’m not Korean, Korean and because I wasn’t growing up in a paper mill and because I’m not a master, master paper maker, of course, the tradition is gonna change but I think better that than die altogether. And, really the only way I think that any of these traditions stay alive is that they keep evolving through history, through culture, through migration and so I’m doing this part to kind of hold it down here and hopefully maybe that will happen as well in Korea.
- Episode Number
- Raw Footage
- Aimee Lee Interview, Camera 2, Part 2 of 4
- Producing Organization
- Contributing Organization
- ThinkTV (Dayton, Ohio)
- AAPB ID
Interviewee: Lee, Aimee
Producing Organization: ThinkTV
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: cpb-aacip-b6725d98d02 (Filename)
Format: Hard Drive
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- Chicago: “Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 401; Aimee Lee Interview, Camera 2, Part 2 of 4,” 2019-10-16, ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 28, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-54da347bdfc.
- MLA: “Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 401; Aimee Lee Interview, Camera 2, Part 2 of 4.” 2019-10-16. ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 28, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-54da347bdfc>.
- APA: Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 401; Aimee Lee Interview, Camera 2, Part 2 of 4. Boston, MA: ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-54da347bdfc